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Faith & Family News: Facebook & Prayer, New Family Channel, Padre Pio Movie, New 'Highway to Heaven,' 'Manifest' Returns

, | August 31, 2021 | By

Facebook wants your prayers; former Hallmark CEO plans new family channels; casting announcement for Padre Pio biopic; rebooted Highway to Heaven; and Manifest is resurrected. Details below!

Praying With Facebook

Testing began last December for a new prayer-request feature, to be used in Facebook Groups (not Pages or personal profiles) that enable it.


In Facebook Groups employing the feature, members can use it to rally prayer power for upcoming job interviews, illnesses and other personal challenges big and small. After they create a post, other users can tap an "I prayed" button, respond with a "like" or other reaction, leave a comment or send a direct message.

Content creator @DriftOr released this video on Twitter on Aug. 8:

As he says in the video, while some faith leaders are embracing the idea, others have privacy concerns (this is Facebook, after all).

I checked the local group I manage for FTP, and the feature is available, but we haven't decided whether to turn it on yet. I located it in the Features section under Settings for the group.

More on this later...

Bill Abbott's GAC Media to Launch Family-Friendly Channels

As Hallmark Channel pushes content boundaries under its new leadership, Bill Abbott, the former CEO of its parent company, Crown Media Networks, is looking to recapture some of his old channel's family magic.

He's now President and CEO of the newly formed GAC Media, which recently shelled out $90M to buy Great American Country channel from Discovery, during its merger into Warner Media. GAC Media also bought the privately held equestrian-sports channel Ride TV.

Great American Country will become GAC Family, and Ride TV will transform into GAC Living.


“At GAC, we’re focused on creating strong brands, compelling programming and a consistent family friendly viewing experience across multiple genres,” said Abbott. “The launch of GAC Family and GAC Living is the next phase in our strategy to bolster the company’s portfolio with networks that deliver on the promise of safe and entertaining storytelling that enriches lives.” also reports:

The channels were described as the new company's "flagships." The networks have deals in place that put them in about 50 million homes. The company said the networks would be launching across platforms, but didn’t disclose plans for distribution beyond cable.

GAC Family's offerings reportedly will feature original films, including holiday films. 

"Raised Catholic" Director Taps Shia LeBeouf to Play Young Padre Pio

Director Abel Ferrara was raised Catholic, but turned toward Buddhism, as he says in this interview (salty language warning).

But now, he's looking to do the life story of Italian Saint Padre Pio, a Franciscan friar and priest known for his intense piety and for bearing stigmata on his hands.

From Variety:

“We’re doing a film about Padre Pio, he’s a monk from Puglia. It’s set in Italy right after World War I. He’s now a saint, he had stigmata. He was also in the middle of a very heavy political period in world history,” Ferrara said. “He was very young before he became a saint, so Shia LaBeouf is going to play the monk.”

Planning to shoot the film in Puglia, he's also cast frequent collaborator Willem Dafoe to play the older Padre Pio. Dafoe was in a faith-inspired film before, playing Jesus in Martin Scorsese's controversial The Last Temptation of Christ.

Some people are very excited about LeBeouf, since he's been seen with Capuchin friars preparing for the role, and was recently photographed in L.A. reading a book about Padre Pio, while wearing a Tau cross and holding rosary beads.

But these are just the actors. We're more concerned about how Ferrara, who is no longer a practicing Catholic -- and has made extremely violent and even pornographic films -- treats his saintly subject.

But, as this is an independent film, we'll have to see if it actually comes to pass.

Back on the 'Highway to Heaven'

Lifetime has given the green light to a reboot of the 1980s drama Highway to Heaven, which starred Michael Landon as an angel sent to Earth to help people.

In cooperation with Landon's widow, Cindy Landon, and the Michael Landon estate, the new version is a series of TV movies. And since it's Lifetime, the angel will now be female (can't imagine why they think women wouldn't want to again watch a handsome male angel. I have a list of possible candidates.).

From Deadline:

With a constant theme throughout of love and kindness, the reboot aims to inspire hope and community as it addresses contemporary social and emotional issues, this time with a female angel as the anchor of the movie series.

In the premiere movie, Angela (Jill Scott) assumes the role of a temporary school counselor and finds herself working alongside the principal Bruce (Barry Watson) as she intervenes in the lives of a troubled student Cody (Ben Daon) and his father Jeff (Robert Moloney) after the tragic loss of Cody’s mother, Melissa (Ashley Ross). As Angela seemingly works miracles with Cody and Jeff, Bruce is in disbelief when he learns of the divine nature of Angela’s work.

The first film is set to premiere Saturday, Nov. 6, on Lifetime.


Manifest Resurrected

Back in June, NBC axed the faith-inspired drama Manifest after three seasons. But, the show turned out to be a huge hit on Netflix, which has anted up for a supersized fourth season to finish the story.

Over 20 episodes, Netflix will conclude the tale of passengers on Montego Air Flight 828 (a reference to the Biblical Romans 8:28, and a recurring number on the show).

Before the plane can return from Jamaica to New York City, it vanishes -- only to reappear five-and-a-half years later, with no time having elapsed for the passengers. Disruption of lives and relationships ensues, with a supernatural twist.

As I said in a May 2020 story here about the show:

On the good side, the show raises questions about faith, God, prayer, free will, redemption, etc. And it's intentional, as creator Jeff Rake (an observant Jew with a wife and, as his Columbia University bio says, "many, many children"), said in response to my question in January at the biannual TV Critics Association Press Tour:

"So, from the very first episode, we introduce this idea of faith versus science. Is this an experience, a phenomenon that can be explained by science, by the laws of physics? Is this an extraterrestrial event, or is there some type of divine intervention going on here?  ...

There is a definitive answer to that question that I'm not going to provide today, because that's fundamental to the mystery of the show, and I don't want to give away in terms of mythology and the mystery. But I will tell you that whether or not the ultimate answer to why this plane disappeared and came back [and how that] connects to divinity versus science versus an extraterrestrial event will be answered objectively."

Reports came out that Netflix was looking to revive the show, then, on Aug. 28 ...

There's no release date yet for season 4 of Manifest, but production is set to begin this fall.

Image: Courtesy Warner Bros./Netflix

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram and YouTube.

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